At the iCommons Summit in Rio in late June, copyright scholar James Boyle, author of some remarkably incisive critiques of copyright conventions, put it in a nutshell – “We have a scientific publishing system’, he said, ‘that is massively dysfunctional and really, really broken.’ If that is the case in the USA, how much more so in South Africa, where scholarly publishing of any description struggles to survive in what is a really, really marginal market? We need to ask ourselves, therefore, whether we are capable of taking up the challenge put out by our Brazilian hosts at the conference, to take a leap from the 19th century to the 21st, thinking of ourselves in the developing world as capable of being in the front line of new approaches. Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian Minister of Culture, said in his opening address: “The player who today loses can become the winner. Everything changes, all the time. And only those who understand change can conquer victory, or yet, victories, which are always partial.’
So what are the new developments that emerged at the Summit, at least in relation to scholarly publishing? It is now well established that Open Access publishing increases citation rates, sometimes dramatically, particularly in developing countries. For example, Subbiah Arunachalam said that going OA had radically increased the impact and reach of a number of Indian journals, with the Journal of Public Medicine now getting over 1 million hits a year. OA, he said, is a way of getting local and relevant knowledge disseminated, too, as it can also dissipate local boundaries.
But now Open Access journal publishing is moving into version 2.0 at the Public Library of Science (PLOS). PLOS ONE has a number of radical new features, built, around an understanding of the potential that can be unleashed if one takes full advantage of what the networked environment can offer. It will be launched later this year, as an inclusive peer reviewed publication that blurs the boundaries between the different scientific fields. Rather than regarding a journal article as being ‘some form of absolute truth’, PLOS One will be set up for ongoing debate and discussion and will also allow for interactive development of online papers, building on conclusions and strengthening data. Most strikingly, it will allow for publication within weeks of acceptance, with open and continuous peer
review happening in the open, after publication.
There is enormous discussion going on around journals and scholarly publishing and there might well be batter alternatives to the way we do things. With the Academy of Science’s major review of journal publishing in South Africa newly published, is it not time to open up the discussion here?